Two words have been waltzing in my head in the last couple of days, completely unrelated, with the only common denominator the initial letter G. When words refuse to exit my thinking process (unlike most other thoughts during the day!) I have to pull out my Oxford Concise Dictionary to hunt down their origins. I know Wikipedia is a lot easier but I am attached to my old Oxford that saw me through many a college exam. Besides, deciphering the abbreviations and the etymology in a dictionary is an art that will soon be lost in the clear and self-explanatory pages of the web.
The first word is “gerrymandering” – obviously in my mind compliments of the recent elections. For the foreigners amongst you, gerrymandering is the act of reshaping voting districts for political purposes, something that the parties in power are known to do. It’s such an expressive word, with only one unmistakable meaning – a one purpose word. It was first used in 1812 by the Boston Gazette in reaction to the redrawing of Massachussets’s voting districts on the party of a Governor Gerry. After all was said and done, by looking at the new map, somebody (probably at the paper) figured out that one of the districts had an odd salamander shape. And a new word was coined that was picked up by the political lingo and became commonplace enough to find its own placement in the dictionary.
The second word is “gene”, the unit of heredity in a chromosome. Somebody asked me what the origin of the word was and it was easy enough to spot a Latin connection but what “genus” meant, I wasn’t actually sure. Well, gene is actually a hybrid between a Latin word meaning descent, family, type or gender and the Greek “genos” which translates to race or stock. It makes biological sense. And my curiosity is satisfied.